As often happens, when I was recently looking online for one thing, I came across something else entirely that took over my attention. These are images depicting such things as flying locomotives and aircraft carriers, which are highly detailed, simultaneously retro and futuristic. Because they were just so cool to look at, I began randomly saving them on my computer, not overly concerned with where they came from or what they might represent. But a little context doesn’t hurt, so I looked further.
The images come out of something called dieselpunk, a term I was totally unfamiliar with. Per Wikipedia, this is “…a genre similar to steampunk that combines the aesthetics of the diesel-based technology of the interwar period through to the 1950s with retro-futuristic technology and post-modern sensibilities…the term has since been applied to a variety of visual art, music, motion pictures, fiction, and engineering…The name ‘dieselpunk’ is a derivative of the 1980s science fiction genre cyberpunk, and represents the time period from World War I until the 1950s, when diesel-based locomotion was the main technological focus of Western culture. The ‘-punk’ suffix attached to the name is representative of the counterculture nature of the genre…The term also refers to the name given to a similar cyberpunk derivative, ‘steampunk,’ which focuses on science fiction based on industrial steam power and which is often set within the Victorian era.”
I’ve read a lot of science fiction and am a big fan of William Gibson’s novels Neuromancer (1984) and Count Zero (1986), and his short-story collection Burning Chrome (1986). Neuromancer was the ground breaker; these works — with influences from punk subculture and hacker culture — were instrumental in establishing cyberpunk as a genre. Gibson and Bruce Sterling co-authored The Difference Engine (1990), an early novel in the steampunk genre, which I’ve yet to read.
Still with me? I think now I should show some of the images that so attracted me. I’ve also found three videos that expand the horizons, so to speak. I’ll start with one of those.
Much of this depicts war weaponry and military gear. It nags at me that here’s a kind of fascist vibe to some of this.
Some of the more playful inventions depict airborne ships (as in boats).
This video is an excellent display of the dieselpunk aesthetic, though the way women are presented suggests adolescent fantasies at work.
Typical dieselpunk cityscapes. These are also evocative of the film Blade Runner (1982).
Even though it predates the term dieselbpunk, the alternative comic book Mister X (Vortex Comics, 1983-1990) is certainly part of that world. I used to have a bunch of these, but they are now gone, alas.
An example of the influence of dieselpunk in our culture — though definitely not in the mainstream — can be seen in “Dieselpunk Brew,” produced by World Brews, a craft beer company in California. I think this is an interesting tangent. If I was still drinking, I’m sure I’d have to take a run at it.
Rosie the Riveter pressed into dieselpunk service.
Films that include aspects of dieselpunk and sometimes cyberpunk include the following:
20,000 Leagues under the Sea (Richard Fleischer, director – 1954)
Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, director – 1982)
Brazil (Terry Gilliam, director – 1985)
Dark City (Alex Proyos, director – 1998)
Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, director – 2015)
Metropolis (Fritz Lang, director – 1927)
Mortal Engines (Christian Rivers, director – 2018)
Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, director – 1987)
The Rocketeer (Joe Johnston, director – 1991)
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Kerry Conran, director – 2004)
Snowpiercer (Bong Joon Ho, director – 2013)
(All are available for streaming on Amazon Prime, with the exception of Metropolis, which is available on MUBI. Snowpiercer is also available on Netflix.)
This final video displays a range of dieselpunk art. It credits the artists and is accompanied by a very cool version of “Minnie the Moocher.”
As I said at the beginning, dieselpunk is a term and a subject I was previously unaware of. So when I Googled it, I was startled to see the pages and pages of links that came up. There’s a whole world of this stuff that’s under the mainstream radar. Check it out, if you’re interested to find out more.
That’s all for now. Be safe. — Ted Hicks